We're less than two months away from the premiere of Once Upon A Time Season 5B, and while it's still unclear whether or not the second half of the season will fix some of the serious mistakes of the first, there are some things to start getting excited about. Personally, the possibility of Hook being left to rot in the Underworld, Regina getting some real airtime, and delving into Belle's backstory have me cautiously intrigued. And it seems the latter — bringing Belle front and center and really getting to know her as her own character instead of Rumple's True Love — is actually going to happen. Showrunner Adam Horowitz teased Episode 17 of the season, entitled "Her Handsome Hero", which basically means we're in for at least one Belle-centric episode.
If you're a little less familiar with the subtleties of the Once universe, you may not immediately gauge the connection between the episode title and the character of Belle, but in fact Her Handsome Hero is the title of a book that Belle's mother read to her often as a child and which she cherished enough to rescue when she was forced to run away from home. We first saw Belle reading it in the episode "Skin Deep" back in Season 1, and it's clearly remained an important part of her character since. So what will it mean for her now?
One thing we do know is that Gaston is coming back in some sense or another. Whether we see him via flashback or he's somewhere in Storybrook and we've just never caught up with him before now remains to be seen, but I think it's fair to say that he certainly won't be Belle's "handsome hero"... or will he? After all, Belle was considering giving Rumple his 100th chance to make their relationship work, but no doubt she'll eventually find out that he lied to her yet again and is the Dark One again, and Belle will likely move on — potentially for good. Could this betrayal send her straight into Gaston's arms, at least temporarily? That remains to be seen, but it's worth noting the connection.
We're not likely to get more than one Belle-centric episode this season, so chances are, a lot will happen very quickly in this one. That means we could get some flashbacks of Belle's pre-Rumple life and likely some development in her current storyline. There's also the issue of Emilie De Ravin's real-life pregnancy, which may or may not be written into Belle's character. If it is, that would certainly be an interesting development on many levels, but that remains to be seen.
Whatever happens, it'll be a refreshing change to see Belle brought to the forefront at least temporarily, as I always felt the character had much more to give than solving everyone's problems by being a bookworm. She's an interesting, complex character originally, so I'm glad to see Once will explore more of her dimensions this season. I may live to regret that statement, but for now, I remain hopeful.